Paul George is a beast. Next year, he’ll probably be one of the 15 best players in the NBA. He deserved every bit of the Most Improved Player award. It was an indication that voters took a more nuanced approached to their picks – selecting a player that went from bourgeoning, to flat-out really good. George is that dude now.
He’s just not that dude, which is inopportune for the Pacers.
Look at that Pacers starting lineup. That’s a mean bunch. They’re big and/or tough at every position (OK David West isn’t a “big” power forward and Hibbert isn’t the toughest cat on the planet, but you get it), they’re athletic, they’re aggressive, they’re hungry and they’re unafraid. All that’s missing is an elite talent capable of – at least throughout the playoffs – consistently transcendent play.
George is getting there, but he’s not there, yet.
That might seem like a confusing assessment given that he’s opened the 2013 playoffs wrecking shop. He followed a 23-point, 12-assist Game 1, with 27 points, eight boards, four steals, three assists and a block in Game 2. The kid is doing it all (albeit against the Hawks). But is he really ready to lead his squad past LeBron and the Heat or Melo and the Knicks? This is just the kid’s third year. There’s really no precedent for that kind of precociousness in the modern era, other than Magic, Bird and Tim Duncan. And George ain’t Magic, Bird or Duncan. And Hibbert ain’t Kareem, The Chief or The Admiral.
The problem is that George is on a franchise-player trajectory; it’s just that it won’t arrive for another couple seasons, when George will have likely ascended into one the “elite of the elite.” By that time, West will be on the other side of 30 and – who knows? – Hibbert might not even have any knees.
That’s not to say that Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard can’t rejigger the roster’s construction after Danny Granger’s contract expires next summer, and refashion a George-centric squad to compliment him in his prime. It’s just saying that, right now, the Pacers have a seriously legit bunch that only needs that dude and it’s a premature role for what’s probably the league’s fastest rising star.
So, congratulations, Pacers, you’re two years too early.